November 30, 2007
Yesterday I picked up a copy of The Dangerous Book For Boys, a book full of the sorts of things that Wyatt’s mother will get very upset if he does in a few years [but that he's going to do anyway].
But I’m a bit worried. He’s already reading The Economist, so this book might be a little bit below his level
July 31, 2007
I’m reading Sam Calagione’s “Brewing Up a Business”, a story about the success of Dogfish Head brewery. So far I’m enjoying it. It’s definitely interesting to understand exactly how he got to where he is today, and how his business grew.
But I’ve got a complaint. The book is designed to be a primer to aspiring entrepreneurs on how to start their own businesses, but the overall tone of the book seems to be “be as unique as Dogfish Head, and for all the same reasons”. There are definitely good points there, and I’m starting to think less about “I want to be a brewer” and more about “What will I be able to to do to distinguish my beer from other brewers’ beer?” I think this is one of the typical problems with books written by entrepreneurs, though, where they write about what made their successful and market it as a description of what will make other businesses successful.
A book about the experiences of other entrepreneurs is still quite helpful, specifically since it was written by someone in the industry I’d like to enter. I’m learning lessons left and right, and count it as a useful tool in getting me to my goal.
But I want something more. Learning from experience can be very helpful, but too often people focus on learning from the success of others. Books written from the perspective of a successful entrepreneur tend to be biased towards how well the decisions worked out, rather than how difficult the decisions were at the time.
So I’m looking for other books. I don’t want books written about successful entrepreneurs. I want books about failure. I want to hear case studies of unsuccessful businesses, and learn as much from the “what not to do” stories as I can learn from the “what to do” stories. There are a lot of reasons why businesses fail, and understanding those pitfalls, written honestly from the perspective of the person who made the wrong decisions, has to be a great tool.
I know these books are out there. While my readership on this blog is pretty tiny, I know some of you have probably read them. So let’s hear some suggestions. What books do I need to read?
April 23, 2007
I teased this one in my bookaholic post, so I figured I might as well get around to reviewing it. The book is The Multiplex Man, by James P. Hogan. I’m not even sure where I first heard about this one (a libertarian blog somewhere, probably), but I picked it up used from Amazon for a very nice price, so there wasn’t a lot of risk in trying it.
The book describes a time in the not-so-distant future. The Western powers (US and Europe), driven by the environmentalists, have begun to clamp down on capitalism as a waste of resources, while the remnants of the old Soviet Union have embraced unbridled capitalism and are rapidly expanding (even into space). The governments of the West have built up enormous propaganda about the dangers of those capitalist nations to control their own citizens, and the people fear that capitalism in the East will collapse, leading to an attack by the East on the West. Thus, they rule their people through fear of an unlikely enemy.
In this world you find Richard Jarrow, a government history teacher who’s bought the lie— hook, line, and sinker. But one day something strange happens. He goes to the doctor, is put to sleep for some routine tests, and then suddenly wakes up 6 months later, 1000 miles away from his home, in a strange hotel room. And in a different body. Furthermore, he tries to head back to his home, only to find out that Richard Jarrow died a mere month after his last memory. Confused and disoriented, particularly by the fact that he has gained incredible fighting ability, he goes on a search to find out exactly what’s going on. He soon determines exactly whose body he’s inhabiting, and starts to see that there are forces of the Eastern capitalist countries who want to use him to further their own ends. Not to mention that the former fiancee’ of the body he’s inhabiting wants the original inhabitant’s personality back. As he starts down the eventual road to the climax of the story, you see how various personalities inside him all start to meld together and fall apart, and you watch as his own psyche starts shorting out.
To go any farther would give too much of the plot away, so I’m not going to do that. The book itself reminded me of a suspense-thriller much like Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. You have a man who isn’t quite sure who he is or why he’s capable of doing what he can do, unsure who to trust and how to survive his situation. It’s a bit more sci-fi than the Bourne series, though, and again to get into the details would give away too much of the plot. Last, for the libertarians in the bunch, it’s certainly got a dystopian vision that is distrustful of state control, sees the government as the enemy, and views unbridled free-market anarchist capitalism as the driving force of prosperity.
As a suspense-thriller novel, it is a bit formulaic at times. You have the protagonist, trying to figure out exactly what is going on in a world that seems to threaten him from every direction. You have the supportive female, who distrusts him at first but grows to push him to his destiny. You’ve got shadowy government figures all around, and you’re never sure which of them is working to help the protagonist and which is not. However, to call it formulaic doesn’t make it a bad book. Hogan throws in twists and turns in places that I hadn’t seen coming, and in general it’s an engaging read.
I’d say that if you’re looking for a new author to check out, and you’re into the suspense-thriller genre, it’s certainly worth a look. If you like the Bourne series from Ludlum, and you’re a libertarian, I think you’ll like this quite a bit. This is a decent novel with libertarian themes, but not to the extent that it beats you over the head with it. As I’ve said with a few other books, this one won’t win any awards, but it’s definitely a nice book to while a few hours away.
April 20, 2007
One of the advantages of having a wife who’s out of town (with the dogs), and no TV, is that it has really helped me to start catching up on my reading list. So I sat down with James P. Hogan’s The Multiplex Man tonight. It’s a pretty fast-paced story (sort of sci-fi/thriller meets “The Bourne Identity”), weighing in as an easy 370 pages. I think I started reading about 9 PM. And finished it around 3:30 AM.
So now I’m stuck. At this time of night, I can’t go to sleep, or there’s no way I’ll have the willpower to get up in time for work tomorrow. It’s not like I’ve never pulled all-nighters, but that will leave me groggy tomorrow and throw off my sleep schedules for a few days. I used to be able to do this sort of crap with impunity when I was in college, but as I near 30, it’s not quite so easy.
Of course, what do you do at 3:30 AM on a Friday? Thankfully I don’t have a TV, because I won’t have to complain about the fact that there’s nothing on. So I found myself dismantling my keg (as I finished off my batch of Sierra Nevada-inspired pale ale the other night), cleaning the whole system. I’ve been through enough kegs now that it’s about time to replace the dispense line, so it needed to be done. Now I’ll probably wander through the house organizing stuff, maybe start answering some work emails, do a little blogging, perhaps reorganize my CD collection in alphabetical order of lead guitarist’s middle names… You know, the usual. I’m sure it won’t be long before I put a pot of coffee on, while I wait for the sunrise.
I have a tendency to do this. Specifically with fiction, I have a severe aversion to putting down books. It’s an addiction. I pick up a book, and it takes over life for several hours until I get to the last page. My parents used to worry about me growing up, because I’d pick up a novel at 8 AM, read continuously until 6:30 PM, and then wonder why I was so hungry. It seems that it had something to do with not eating during the course of the whole day.
As I’ve gotten older and busier, I’ve tended to shy away from reading 8+ hours straight. The occasional times I’ve picked up 600-page novels make it far too hard to devote that much continuous time to a book. And I’m sure when the baby comes, I’ll be happy to get more than 10 minutes at a time. But I’ve never quite understood why I do this to myself. The book would be there tomorrow, I could easily have stopped about midnight and still gotten a nice full night’s sleep. But instead, here I sit, wondering how to pass a few random hours where I can’t sleep and have little useful to do, I’m beginning to wonder whether continuing to read a midnight, when I still had half a book left, was a good idea…
The Unrepentant Individual linked with Book Review: The Multiplex Man, James P. Hogan
April 14, 2007
Some of you have probably notice me link the Scott Stein a few times in the past. I found him a while back, when he was looking for examples of humorous writing for a class he was teaching. In fact, I even got him to give me a literary critique of The Search For The Beast, which was quite helpful, and I hope to incorporate into future writing.
So I decided to pick up his new book, Mean Martin Manning. I actually paid for it, because his publisher apparently doesn’t give review copies to unknown bloggers with limited readership, but that’s alright, it was worth it (partly because it comes with little “extras” in the package, which is nice).
The book is a novel describing an exciting episode the normally uneventful life of Martin Manning, an elderly man who has spent 30 years shut off from the world. Surviving on cold-cuts, television, a collection of clocks and porcelain frogs, and ordering everything he needs from the internet, he’s quite happy to live without any human interaction whatsoever. But one day, in order to comply with a new government “Life Improvement” program, social worker Alice Pitney shows up. And all hell breaks loose.
Armed with the full force and power of the state government, Pitney is determined to help a man who wants no help. He’s forced into the improvement program, where he’s expected to eat healthy foods, interact with all sorts of crazy characters, and the self-sufficient shut-in is treated like a child to be trained in how to be a better person. In his first group therapy session, Manning says it best:
“You poor saps can go for Pitney’s bullshit if you like— I won’t hold it against you. I just want to give you fair warning. It might not look like it, but as we speak, I’m in an epic struggle with Caseworker Pitney for my very soul.”
Immovable force meets a nanny-statist who won’t take no for an answer, and all sorts of hilarity ensues. Oh, did I mention that Stein is funny? This book doesn’t read like Atlas Shrugged, it pops with it’s collection of smart-assed narration and just-cartoonish-enough characters. The book has an air of the fantastic about it, but then again, when you hear about some of the things going on in Britain, it almost seems like it will be here shortly.
As for the politics, I can’t see many libertarians not liking the book, or not cheering on Martin Manning as he fights against those who want to control him for his own good. It gives a face and a name to the insidious nature of the nanny state. It reminds you that you should stand extra guard when they try to come after you for your own good, as C.S. Lewis once said:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Overall, the book gets a hearty recommendation. It clicks in at just over 200 pages, so it’s a quick read, but long enough to develop the characters, put together a cohesive plot, and make it all interesting. As for distribution, I think you may need to go to the publisher directly on this one, though, unfortunately it’s not up on Amazon. Either way, check it out.
the Scott Stein linked with A few good men ... and women
the Scott Stein linked with Response to a review
Atlas Blogged linked with Mean Martin Manning
April 5, 2007
One of the regular readers over at The Liberty Papers is doing a college paper on the similarities between bloggers & pamphleteers. He was looking for an expert to interview, and when he couldn’t find one, he contacted me. With his permission, I’m posting his questions and my answers below the fold.
1. What do you think are the biggest similarities between bloggers today and colonial pamphleteers?
I think the biggest similarity is that it opens communication to the masses. Journalist AJ Liebling once said that freedom of the press belongs to those who own one. While the rise of pamphleteering brought the power of the press to the common man in the 1700’s, blogs have done so today. It is possible, either for free or for a small hosting fee, to provide your ideas to the world.
To understand the similarities between bloggers and pamphleteers, it is also important to understand what they are not. They are not typically authors of scholarly books. They are not typically professional journalists. They are ordinary people from all walks of life with ideas that they want to share, because they think those ideas are important.
The other important similarity is the dynamism involved. Just as it is expensive to write, print, and sell/market a book, it is very inexpensive to do any of these with pamphlets or blogs. Both cover ideas in a much more in-depth manner than a newspaper, but in a much quicker time to print than a book. While most of the mainstream world focuses on the “major” pamphlets and blogs (like Common Sense and Instapundit), though, the world of each was much wider than will remembered for posterity. One book you might want to see if your school’s library has is “Pamphlets Of The American Revolution”, by Bernard Bailyn. It’s was planned as a 4-volume set (although only one has gone to print) containing some of the most influential pamphlets of the time. But the very fact that you could fill 4 volumes simply with the influential pamphlets should clue you in to the idea that the world of pamphleteering filled a lot more space than those few pamphlets which made it into the history books. This is very similar to the world of blogs today. While there are some major blogs out there on the ‘net (a group which The Liberty Papers has unfortunately not yet cracked), there are countless multitudes below of people taking advantage of their ability to publish. Some are great, some are horrible, and most are in between, but they’re all out there in the marketplace of ideas, much like the pamphleteers were before us.
Last, it is important to point out a crucial difference between blogging and pamphleteering, which is due largely to the differences between modern and colonial times. The pamphleteers of the time were writing for readers with a much longer attention span than bloggers can get away with today. I just recently read Common Sense, and it’s a 50-page mini-book. Pamphleteers, of course, didn’t have to compete with driving kids going to soccer practice and what’s on the TV each night, and thus they could afford more room. The blogs of today are mostly short and to the point, and a treatise like Common Sense would likely go unnoticed and unread by today’s readers, much to our detriment.
2. It is said that George Washington read Paine’s “The Crisis” to American troops and it increased motivation for the cause of liberty. In your experience, have there been instances where blogging has helped to unite the American populace in such a way?
It is here that I don’t think blogs necessarily fill the same role as pamphlets. It is here, especially, where the nature of what we describe as the “blogosphere” as a collective entity becomes important. It is rare that individual bloggers write something so profound that it moves beyond a fairly small circle. However, because of the design of the blogosphere, it does have the ability to move a message around quite effectively. When the message itself is important enough, the blogosphere’s linked structure amplifies the message to the point where the American people cannot ignore it.
There have been numerous instances of the blogosphere driving the news cycle, particularly in politics. The most famous is the Dan Rather “fake, but accurate” Texas Air National Guard scandal. Before the world of blogs, such a scandal would have probably gone unnoticed until after the election, and may have even changed the outcome. Instead, a horde of bloggers pounced on the story, and Dan Rather was instantly discredited. Since then, as blogs have become even more widespread, their ability to influence the debate has become even more apparent. Blogs moved word and created debate about the Kelo decision that likely would have gotten unnoticed elsewhere. It was blogs who kept the pressure on when a local woman here in Atlanta, 88-year-old Kathryn Johnston, was killed in a drug raid. It may have been that pressure which resulted in indictments of the officers involved. The effect on politics has been even more profound, as bloggers combed over the public (and occasionally private) statements, histories, and policies of politicians in the 2006 midterm elections, and have already been pounding the pavement in the 2008 Presidential race.
There is a last point, and this is due as much to the nature of the internet in general than necessarily bloggers. The internet itself has allowed people to come together based on personal interests, based on ideology, etc. I can just as easily find fellow libertarians online as I can find fellow homebrewers. While it would be very difficult for me to find like-minded people in the offline world to debate and learn about libertarianism, it was very easy in the online world. Thus, I have access to ideas that a person of my age (28) would have taken another three decades to find without the internet. In this, I’m not alone. The internet has changed the way that information is transmitted, and the implications of that change are currently beyond our ability to foresee. Blogging itself is only 5 years old, and it’s already changing the political and social landscape. Imagine what it might do in another 5 or 10 years!
3. In what way do you think writing for The Liberty Papers and The Unrepentant Individual has made you like early American political writers?
I think the key point, as I see it, is that there are important things going on in the world, and like early American writers, I desire to be a participant in the debate, not a casual observer.
One of the things that has always fascinated me about the Founding Fathers is that they were normal men, on an uncertain course, who ended up doing quite extraordinary things. We idolize them as if they were were a picture of perfection, but when you learn about them, you see just how REAL they were. They had their petty squabbles, they had family disputes. To hear the stories of Ben Franklin’s heartbreak as he had to face the fact that he and his own son were taking different sides in the war for Independence, really hits home that these were ordinary men. Even more important, we look at history as if it were pre-ordained, as if these men knew that they would be victorious in the struggle for Independence. They knew nothing of the sort; they were taking on the world’s most powerful empire armed with nothing more than the force of their ideas and the force of their muskets. They didn’t know they would be victorious, they simply knew that the struggle was worth it either way.
Like them, I am an ordinary man. My education is not in political science or in liberal arts; I’m an engineer. I’ve got plenty of flaws, and I’m not sure whether what I’m doing is having an impact, and if I am, whether that impact will ultimately prove to be futile. There are some days when I think that America is slipping into tyranny and that there are only a tiny few of us who care, or even notice. There are other days when I think that perhaps facing the darkness will be the catalyst to turn America back towards light. I don’t know where the world will be in 5 years, 10 years, or beyond. What I know is that I will not sit idly by and let it all come to pass around me. I want to be a part of it. I may be only a small part, but I will be heard. I think that’s the same feeling those early American political writers had, and that’s what I identify with when I put myself in that place.
December 18, 2006
I’ve been putting this one off for several months now… But another blogger who I’ve read and corresponded with for a while has written a book. I read it a while back, because I was buying a copy for my sister-in-law and her fiancee.
The book is called How To Merge Your Money for Marriage, and it’s written by Jack Stevison, known to the readers of this blog as Uncle Jack (no relation). The book is written for any couple looking to get themselves started off on the right financial track in their marriage.
Are You Planning for your Wedding, or for Your Marriage?
The divorce rate in the U.S. continually hovers at 50%, and couples blame financial stress as one of the top reasons for marital breakdowns.
Learn how to keep money from becoming a stress inducer, and learn how to save even if you’re the “spender” in your marriage.
An enjoyable read that provides practical planning advice for couples on how to conquer the financial issues together.
This book could be the least expensive item you buy in advance of your wedding, yet have the biggest long-term positive impact on your marriage!
I have to say, this was a difficult book to review. Most of what I read is something I choose to read for several reasons, not the least of which that it’s something that I expect to learn something from. When it comes to financial planning, though, I’ve already read quite a bit, and I know exactly what I should and should not be doing (having the willpower to do it is another story). So while there were a few interesting things, I didn’t necessarily learn a lot from the book.
However, what I didn’t quite grasp at first was that I’m not the target audience for this book. It’s a short, simple book. And it’s targeted at the sort of people who might not read a 250-page financial-planning tome. It gets straight to the point with little fuss.
So I’d have to say that most of my readers probably already know and understand much of what’s in the book. However, that’s not a reason for me not to recommend it. It’s recommended as a definite great gift idea. We all know people getting married who have very little understanding of money or the world. We all know that most of those people, if they’re going to read anything at all, will read a short, quick book. This is a perfect book for those people.
And it’s important. Financial concerns are a big cause of marital strife. Even worse, financial dishonesty and hiding things from your spouse are common and highly-destructive traits. This book lays out, in clear and uncertain terms, that financial planning is something that needs to be tackled from day 1. And if you’re beyond day 1 in your marriage, it needs to be tackled immediately. Further, it gives a simple blueprint both on how to have the discussion, and on what the goals need to be.
There are a lot of people who can benefit from a book like this. Even if my readers may not be those people, the book is a good (and easily-digestible) primer for quite a few young couples, and probably one of the few books on the subject that they’ll actually read. If you know someone like that, pick up a copy.
One of my daily reads for quite some time has been Coyote Blog. The author, Warren Meyer, is a business owner out west, as well as a libertarian. It’s always one of my top spots for economics and free trade writing, as well as a first-hand account of how ridiculous government regulation has become. If you’re not reading it, add it to your list.
Last month, Warren’s novel, BMOC, was released. As I am a voracious reader, I’m always on the lookout for new books. I managed* to get a copy of BMOC last week, and read it on my flights to and from Texas this weekend. The book is a suspense-murder-intrigue type of plot:
Susan Hunter is a brilliant but lazy student at the Harvard Business School, who has a long-term plan for succeeding at Harvard and getting a high-paying job with the absolute minimum of work. Her plans begin to awry when she receives an invitation for a job interview with Preston Marsh, the quirky millionaire who has built his fortune on oddball businesses from selling designer musical tones to harvesting coins in fountains. Marsh convinces Susan to abandon her path of least resistance to work in his new business called BMOC, which guarantees its student clients that it will make them popular. But nothing in the job description prepares Susan for getting sent to LA to investigate a young woman’s suicide. Susan has to struggle to adapt her business school training to what increasingly appears to be a murder investigation, as a consortium of media companies, tort lawyers, and even a US Senator fight to hide the truth. And that was before they started shooting at her.
Now, I should lay out a few reviewer’s ground rules here. I’m not a literary critic. I very rarely dislike any novels. So when I say I liked the book, that’s not setting the bar very high. So I’ll try to go into greater depth, but at the very least I found it to be a very enjoyable read, and recommend it for that reason.
One of the things that struck me as a reader of Coyote Blog was the extent to which I noticed Warren’s writing voice and style carried over into the novel. Most of it, of course, was inside things that most non-readers of the blog wouldn’t pick up on, of course, which is to say that it certainly doesn’t detract from the novel. But writing about an business student allows Warren to throw in a little bit of his own subject matter. And, of course, the main character just happens to have a poli/econ blog called “Spreadsheet Girl”, for which Warren’s own blogging experience obviously gave him the knowledge to write accurately about. It’s not like he’s calling the internet a series of tubes. I should point out, though, that it’s not overwhelming. Yes, the main character happens to have a blog, but it’s an aside to the book, not a central theme (as you could worry about some bloggers-turned-authors doing).
Beyond this, the plot is pretty good, and it flows in a cohesive manner. Warren, as far as I could tell, manages mostly to stay away from some of the problems inherent in murder-suspense thrillers, where the plot is just too incredibly convenient to be plausible. The book is definitely a page-turner, but not at the cost of character development. The action sequences make sense, and there is a bit of poetic justice and humor in certain scenes.
For those of you who look at books for their ideological bent, Warren takes a big shot at government, media, and tort lawyers. All while making the entrepreneur/businessman into the “good guy”. Part of this was by design, as he said that he was sick of reading books always portraying the “evil” capitalist businessman. But this isn’t a “libertarian” book. This is a murder-suspense novel, and it doesn’t feel like you’re being beaten over the head with philosophy.
Above all, if you’re looking for a new read, give it a shot. Is it going to win any literary awards? Probably not, but it’s well-written, and you’ll be supporting a fellow libertarian blogger.
* Full Disclosure: Warren graciously offered a few free copies to bloggers. His hope was that bloggers would read and review the book.
July 18, 2006
The plan is for the film to be shot and shown in three parts, as a trilogy, like “Lord of the Rings.” Only that length, they said, would give sufficient scope to tell Ayn Rand’s long, complex story. (The initial $40 million would go mainly to Part I.)…
A trilogy, huh? This, for a book that I recommend to my friend with the caveat that “well, the first 600 pages or so are pretty slow, mostly character development stuff.” Basically the first 600 pages consist of Dagny gettin’ it on with copper magnate Francisco D’Antonia and then with industrialist Hank Rearden.
Supposedly Angelina Jolie is going to play Dagny. Which means the first movie will be soft-core porn, starring Angelina Jolie??
Maybe this doesn’t sound like as much of a problem as I thought!
Below The Beltway linked with Not. Gonna. Happen.
July 16, 2006
It’s true, scientists says so!
It turns out that they fed 1000 rats only distilled water for 2 months. By the end of those two months, 996 of the rats were dead. Finding no known cause of death, the scientists surmised it must be cancer!
Of course, I jest. I’ve used that scenario to make fun of the near-constant scares hyped by the media for years. But it’s not far from the truth. Reading John Stossel’s book, Give Me A Break, I was taken aback when I saw how close I was to the truth:
So scientists began seeking ways to determine which chemicals caused cancers and other problems. Animal tests using proportions of chemicals that arenormally consumed in real life wouldn’t work because they’d need a million rats or guinea pigs to get significant results (not every animal gets cancer from the carcinogen, and a third of the animals get cancer just from living). The scientists got around that by feeding the animals huge doses of the carcinogens, then waiting up to two years to see if the animals got cancer, and the tests often cost more than $1 million.
Then California biochemist Dr. Bruce Ames came up with a brilliant solution. “Instead of testing animals,” he said, “test bacteria to see if the chemicals damage DNA. You can study a billion bacteria on just one petri dish. Bacteria reproduce every 20 minutes.
The Ames test proved fabulously successful. It was hailed as a major scientific breakthrough, and became the standard test to see if chemicals cause mutations. Its first use in the ’70s showed there were mutagens in hair dyes and in fireproof materials in children’s pajamas. Ames helped get the chemicals banned.
But then, Ames told me, “People started using our test and finding mutagens everywhere, in cups of coffee, in plants we eat, in broiled hamburgers. Most mutagens turned out to be carcinogens. I started getting a more realistic view of the world.”
Ames and his colleague Lois Gold concluded that the popular assumption that man-made chemicals are more likely to be carcinogenic than natural substances are wrong. Ames told us that in “high-dose animal cancer tests, half of all chemicals tested, whether natural or man-made, are carcinogens. Exposure to man-made chemicals that are carcinogens is minuscule compared to the exposure to natural carcinogens in our diet. Thousands of new chemicals have been introduced over the past forty years. If they were giving people cancer, then there should be an epidemic of cancer in this country, but there isn’t.”
Half of all chemicals ever tested cause cancer. At least, if you shove obscene amounts of them into small mammals, of course. Doesn’t that put a little bit more perspective on these “scientific studies”? In fact, I find only one use for these studies, and that’s rationalizing my own behavior.
Of course, I can be accused of being a bit dismissive of risk. After all, I need to have a limb halfway hanging off before I’m willing to go see a doctor. When someone says “hey Brad, let’s go jump out of airplanes”, my first thought is to check my schedule to see when I have an open weekend. My wife is at the other extreme; when she has a few headaches over the course of a week, suddenly she becomes convinced she has a brain tumor and wants to go to emergency for a CAT scan… I’ll bet that a proper level of managing risk is somewhere in between.
But what I’ve never understood is why some people spend all their time worrying about the most arcane things like plane crashes, yet drive without a seat belt. Or they worry about getting cancer from grapefruit, yet they are 60 lbs overweight and smoke. Or they worry about the threat of terrorism, yet leave their doors unlocked and garages open every night.
It’s almost as if people subconsciously need something to worry about, but know that they can’t worry about their own behavior. After all, if they start worrying that their own behavior is dangerous, they’ll be hypocrites if they don’t change it. Worrying about what you can’t control is pointless.
I was thinking of this the other day, when contemplating my vacation. I’m going to be going to Hawaii for Labor Day weekend. North Korea is apparently taking aim at Hawaii. That doesn’t bother me, though. Let’s look at the chances. First, they’d have to choose the time I’m there to fire their missile. Second, the missile would have to work properly enough to even come close. Third, their guidance system would have to be good enough that they’d hit one of the islands. Fourth, they’d have to choose Maui, since that’s where I’ll be. Fifth, they’d have to have a sizable enough weapon to hit me. If all those things happen, and I go up in a mushroom cloud, I’m cool with it. I refuse to let that miniscule chance change my decision to go spend 6 days in a tropical paradise.
But again, I’m an odd case. I’m not worried one bit about cancer, because I’m relatively sure that by the time I reach an age where I’m likely to develop cancer, they’ll have cured it already. But I watch people consistently spending time making themselves miserable worrying about things that are unlikely to happen. If you spend your time worrying about the bad things that might happen, you’re not spending it enjoying the good things which do happen.
Bad things happen in the world, that much is fact. It’s smart to do your best to protect yourself from the likeliest of bad things to happen, at least when you can. But you should never let yourself be paralyzed by fear of things that are highly unlikely to happen.
InsureBlog linked with Cavalcade of Risk (4th Edition)
MedBillManager Blog linked with Cavalcade of Risk Number FOUR
June 7, 2006
Ahh, the advantages of plane travel: I finally get a chance to read in peace!
I just finished reading Glenn Reynolds’ (of Instapundit fame) An Army of Davids. The tagline, “How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths”, pretty well sums it up. Reynolds believes we’re at a turning point in world history, where technology has leveled the playing field, chopping down the natural advantages that the “Goliaths” have had for many years. If anything, Reynolds is a firm believer in the Adam Smith “invisible hand” theory, where millions of distributed individuals, working at what they love, bring about monumental changes. It’s not government that does so, unless they find ways to harness the power of those individuals.
If you’ve read me for any period of time, you will see that I’ve had some influence by the ideas Reynolds brings up this book, although since I rarely read Instapundit.com, he hasn’t been a primary source for me. I’ve posted here, here, and here about how I believe the current shift has moved away from government to the individual. I think I had found my way, through the blogosphere and my own introspection, to agreement with Reynolds on a number of subjects presented in the book.
As for the book itself? Well, how can I dislike a book whose opening line in the introduction is “About fifteen years ago, I started brewing my own beer”?! It was a very well-written look at the ways that individuals are gaining power in the world, with only a short look at blogs and the media. Moving along, he touches on subjects like the growing ability of workers to telecommute and the rise in entrepreneurial opportunity, the change in music recording and distribution brought about by the internet, and the ability of humans (both within the blogosphere and in the meatspace world) to act as a pack of individuals with a common goal– and not a herd being led. He goes on to point out how our media has grown and will continue to grow with the revival of the citizen-journalist, and how “horizontal information”, as he calls the greater inconnectedness of information in today’s society, changes the learning curve of humanity itself. Throughout this first section of the book, he gives real-world examples of trends he’s spotted in today’s world, and where and how he sees them impacting humanity in the short and long term.
When you get into the second section, he moves farther into true futurism, such as nanotechnology, life-extension, the colonization of space, and the Singularity. Through these chapters, his greatest theme, as far as I can see, is a simple one: “Hey folks, this stuff is coming. We’d better get used to the idea, so we can plan for it.” Reynolds doesn’t ask whether these advances will occur, he asks what we’re doing to help ensure that we know how to handle life when they arrive. In this section (with the exception of the space colonization chapter), he does tend to stray from his “Army of Davids” theme, though. He occasionally comes back, with discussions of how technologies such as nanotechnology might empower individuals, but it ceases to be a central theme here. Either way, it’s still an interesting read through these chapters, especially if you’re not already well versed in these areas.
The central theme of the book, of course, is truly a heartening idea to individuals. For a very long time, the dominating change in our world has been towards greater and greater centralization of power, whether it be in corporations, media, or government. Technology, however, has now reversed that trend. We are seeing every one of those areas returning power (though reluctantly) to individuals, as individuals find their voice to demand it. From the effects of blogs on media (i.e. Dan Rather) and politics (i.e. Porkbusters), to the effect of open-source on technology (i.e. Microsoft), loosely-connected groups of individuals, working for their own personal reasons, have acheived incredible accomplishments. He points out the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when– in the absence of government control– individual citizens simply organized on the fly and took care of what needed to be done. As the world becomes more complex, central control becomes less useful. With the march of technology, though, it becomes unnecessary even more quickly.
Reynolds uses the example of the creation of the internet as a global information warehouse, pointing out the naysayers– had they been asked 10 years ago if our current access to information was even possible– would never have thought it could occur. The argument of “it would take every librarian in the world decades to input all that information” doesn’t make sense when you have millions of individuals willing to do it for them, for free, simply because they find it interesting. Curiously, Reynolds doesn’t use the example of the open-source movement, which has the same nay-sayers. The open-source nay-sayers think that programmers would never work tirelessly to bring about major innovations in the software world. Yet openoffice.org exists, and provides a usable alternative to Microsoft. Did someone organize huge stockpiles of capital to make it happen? Nope, a million dedicated people who wanted to see it happen simply did it.
Overall, I consider it to be a great read. However, for those of you who are already evangelizing for the “Army of Davids” world, and who consider yourself a “futurist”, there isn’t a whole lot new here. Reynolds does craft it into a very readable and cohesive package, though, so it’s a great read regardless. If the preceding description doesn’t apply to you, though, buy it now! There are a heck of a lot of people who think the world is headed for some big changes, and Reynolds lays out a simple, readable, and entertaining description of what shape he (and I) think it will take.
The world is changing, and changing quickly. If there is truly an “Army of Davids”, consider me a self-ranked Lieutenant. Glenn Reynolds may just be one of our Generals. Thankfully, though, unlike the U.S. Army, the chain of command is nonexistent, and I don’t have to fear the UCMJ. I can go tell Gen. Reynolds to go pound sand if I like, and the best he can do is not link to me. Of course, knowing his sense of humor, he’s more likely to link to me with a derisive “Heh.”, defusing my suggestion of pounding sand pre-emptively. Either way, if Gen. Reynolds ever finds his way through Marietta, I’ll have a bottle of homebrew waiting
As for what convinced me to “serve” in the “Army of Davids”? To that, I can only say the same thing I’d expect to hear from my fellow warriors: I’m doing this to make me happy, and any benefit you receive is ancillary.
Liberty Corner linked with Carnival of Liberty XLIX
Below The Beltway linked with Around The `Sphere
May 19, 2006
A few pundits are arguing that Christians should read the bestselling book The Da Vinci Code and see the movie to “engage the culture” and as a tool for evangelism.
By that argument, we should encourage people to read other popular, but infamous, works: Chinese dictator Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, or The Communist Manifesto. Or, why not Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic diatribe popular in Muslim circles?
You’re darn right, we should encourage people to read those books. After all, only by knowing your adversaries’ beliefs can you argue against them. There was a reason I took the “Classic and Contemporary Marxism” class at Purdue, and it wasn’t because I was aspiring to become a Marxist. What’s so scary about people reading the opposing view?
It would be wonderful to believe Christians can argue the facts to Dan Brown’s hate-filled, fictitious attack on Jesus Christ, Christianity, the Bible, Christians and history. The truth is, however, that many people have not read a Bible or understood their faith sufficiently to counter the story’s intricacies.
Shouldn’t this guy be a little bit more concerned that the Church is filled with people who have very little understanding of what they purport to believe? How can anyone be a good Christian without having a fairly clear understanding of the tenets of that faith?
Of course, there are areas where in-depth knowledge is not necessary for daily life. I don’t need to know the intricacies of string theory and quantum mechanics to understand basic physics. The approximate laws of gravity are close enough for government work. But I think that if we’re gambling with an eternal soul, it would be worth it to learn enough to make an informed decision.
Does the average person know what Gnostic Gospels are? Are people familiar with the Catholic group Opus Dei? What is the answer when Christians are asked whether Jesus married Mary Magdalene? Did they have children? Has the church hidden important facts from the faithful? These are just some of the complex issues discussed in The Da Vinci Code. Although it is fiction, it contains enough references to history to make Christians question their beliefs.
The slanderous distortions and falsehoods are as dangerous as they are numerous. The movie threatens to strike another massive blow to people’s understanding and knowledge of God, Christianity and history.
How can this book and movie threaten to strike a massive blow to people’s understanding and knowledge of God, when the writer has just claimed that people don’t have enough understanding or knowledge of God to counter the arguments of the movie?
I question my beliefs all the time. A year ago, I would have made the argument that the protections of the Bill of Rights only applied to American citizens, because I hadn’t even really considered the opposite. Since, I’ve learned quite a bit and changed my belief. At the same time, I’ve been bombarded with knowledge about the tenets of anarcho-capitalism, and yet I haven’t made the leap there. I’m an adult, and I can evaluate these things for myself. I don’t need someone to “protect me from these ideas”. Neither do Christian moviegoers.
May 11, 2006
In the fight to stay on the shelves of Gwinnett County schools, it looks like Harry Potter has won another battle.
The hearing officer in the case has strongly recommended that the best-selling book series stay in school libraries. The decision came after Laura Mallory, a Loganville mother with three children at J.C. Magill Elementary School, filed formal complaints requesting all the Harry Potter books be removed.
Mallory said the books’ descriptions of witchcraft, spells, “demonic activity, murder and evil blood sacrifice” may inspire young readers to pursue occult activities.
Ooh, let’s see where they can take this… They’ll need to remove the Chronicles of Narnia series, because that might inspire young readers towards Christianity, and with the separation of Church and State, we can’t expose youngsters to religion. And they’ll have to stop having children read The Diary of Anne Frank, because those kids might just be inspired to commit a holocaust or two. Let’s definitely stop them from reading The Great Gatsby, because we don’t want to inspire kids to live the “flapper lifestyle”, do we? I’m not even going to get into the filth-laden Catcher in the Rye…
And for the full coup de grace, let’s make sure we pull out “The Cat in the Hat”. Young minds simply aren’t capable of handling the idea of a talking, upright-walking cat. Their fragile little minds might be inspired to put a hat on their cat and mess up the house!
Give me a break… Thankfully, it’s possible cooler heads might prevail:
Hearing officer Su Ellen Bray wrote in her recommendation 10 reasons why she thought the books should remain in school libraries.
She argued that they encouraged children to read for pleasure, and that most students who read them would know they were fantasy, not fact. She also said the books promoted positive themes, such as good prevailing over evil.
Her last reason summarized many of Bray’s earlier points: “To remove this series of critically acclaimed and highly popular books from the school media centers because of a challenge of one parent who has not read any one of the books in its entirety, who has mistakenly identified the themes of the books, and whose main argument is that the books teach the readers to be evil, would open this very fine school system to ridicule by many of its citizens as well as citizens of this nation.
Let me shorten down this recommendation for you: “The lady is a nutjob, and we shouldn’t let our educational system be hijacked by this nutjob. Even if it IS Georgia…”
I think it’s about time to find Ms. Mallory’s address, and start sending her kids some of the favorite books I read growing up… I’ll start with The Great Brain series, I absolutely *loved* those when I was younger…
PS – For any of you with young kids (particularly boys), The Great Brain series is a wonderful start on getting your kid to read. I absolutely devoured those books in grade school…
April 22, 2006
When my company hits certain sales targets, we get little rewards in the form of gift cards/etc. March was a very good month, so we each received $150. I chose Borders Books, which is now associated with amazon.com, and went hog-wild on the stuff on my wishlist (since nobody seems to buy stuff for me, that is)…
So here’s what I currently have on deck. I have a feeling I’m going to be very busy…
Freakonomics : A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
-Stephen D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner
The Wealth of Nations
The Machinery of Freedom: A Guide to Radical Capitalism
The Complete Joy of Homebrewing
Restoring the Lost Constitution : The Presumption of Liberty
And on DVD:
Michael & Me
March 11, 2006
I caught The Daily Show from last night, where Jon Stewart was introducing Bruce Bartlett. Of course, I couldn’t see any reason why Stewart would interview Bartlett, until I realized that Bartlett wrote a book slamming President Bush. Jon Stewart rightly described Bartlett at the beginning of the interview as having “street-cred with Conservatives”, and although I disagree with Bartlett’s assessment of the FairTax, his conservative credentials are well established. And yet he’s been fired for writing a book explaining why the conservative movement is far to the right of Bush.
In his own words, Why I Wrote the Book:
Last week, I published a new book, Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. A lot of my friends are not happy with me for writing it and I have been embraced by a number of people on the left whom I would ordinarily consider my political enemies. Both are mistaken about why I wrote the book and what I hope to accomplish with it.
Some of my former friends on the right have attacked me as an opportunist who sold out his party and his president to get a best-seller. They would not think so if they knew that I started this project knowing that I would probably lose my job with a think tank closely allied with the White House, which I did. My advance on the book was less than the salary I was making, so if I am an opportunist, Iâ€™m a pretty poor one.
My new friends on the left are, of course, delighted to find someone on the right who is articulating a critique of George W. Bush. But if they read the book, they will find that my criticism bears nothing in common with theirs. Just because I find fault with a president from my party doesnâ€™t mean Iâ€™ve switched sides. On the contrary, I wrote the book in order to help my side win.
My basic argument is that Mr. Bush has enacted policies contrary to conservative principles on too many occasions.
It’s no secret that with each passing day, I find more reasons to regret my 2004 vote for George W. Bush. My only basis for support of that “big-government conservative” is his leadership in the War on Terror, something which angers both my leftist friends and the committed Libertarians. Given that I believe the war on terror is Job #1 of our government right now, and considering the inability (IMHO) of John Kerry to fight that war properly, I couldn’t have made that vote differently and felt good about myself. But I’m not feeling that good now.
There’s a large negative feeling about Dubya from the entire libertarian wing of the Republican Party. I hate to say it, but I’m thinking that will lead to some big losses in 2006, and possibly beyond. Given that the Republicans tend closer to the libertarians than Democrats on most issues important to me, that’s a bad sign.